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Money matters

When can the back-scratching commence?

November 19, 2008
By Phil Holland

Despite the thick end of a decade separating us from the 2018 World Cup, and even longer to the 2022 event, a raft of potential hosts have already begun to mobilise their campaigns for the right to host sport's most prestigious and lucrative event outside of the Olympics.

GettyImagesOne doubts whether British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will have the same positive impact on World Cup bid as Barack Obama.

But as the English Football Association try to finalise the composition of their 2018 bid team, and the United States begin to hope that the election of a new president could add impetus to their campaign, there is confusion over the process itself.

FIFA had told bid leaders from Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands, China, England, Mexico, Qatar, Spain and the US that campaigns to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups would run concurrently with a decision on both to be revealed at the same time after the scheduled vote in March 2011.

However, doubts have been raised within FIFA's executive committee, with members questioning the decision to award the 2022 tournament with 11 years still to go.

What might appear to be a minor consideration is in fact crucial because of the impact it will have on the politicking and horse trading which plays a key role in the voting process.

As well as having a solid and viable bid, a candidate country needs to have international support across FIFA's various continental associations when the votes are being cast, so what happens behind the scenes is just as vital as putting together an impressive tender.

But with a definitive decision on the bidding process for both 2018 and 2022 not expected until December, the back-scratching remains on hold.

As far as England's 2018 bid is concerned there has been progress, but there is still work to do.

While high profile figures like David Beckham and Fabio Capello have agreed to provide the bid with publicity and others, notably Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive of successful supermarket chain Tesco, has signed up to lend his business acumen, the bid still lacks a figurehead.

The FA had hoped Liverpool chief executive, and former Premier League chief executive, Rick Parry would take the role, but he has rejected the opportunity. Although not a quite a hammer blow, it is a frustration for the FA who have seen more positive developments for their rival bidders.

Australia's hopes for the 2018 event have been boosted after an agreement was reached to allow World Cup games to be played at certain rugby league and Aussie Rules stadiums.

With the World Cup slated for its traditional June/ July window this would have fallen smack in middle of the AFL and NRL seasons and could have left the World Cup bid short on venues. But with compromises thrashed out the Australian bid is back on track.

In Europe Belgium and the Netherlands will hope to reprise memories of their successful joint hosting of Euro 2000 with a tilt at 2018. A total of 11 cities in the two countries have said they could host matches, giving the bid one more than the 10 stadiums required by bidding countries under FIFA rules.

Once FIFA clarifies the bid process, US Soccer is expected to decide whether to put themselves forward for 2018, 2022 or both World Cups, and a senior FIFA official told Yahoo Sports that the popularity of President-Elect Barack Obama could be "a huge factor" in deciding whether the USA are granted hosting rights.

"How can it not make a difference," said the source. "Now when you think of America, you don't think George W Bush or war, you think of this man, Obama, who has made history and given hope to millions. The men who vote on World Cup hosts are not immune to those same feelings. If the US bid stacks up in terms of infrastructure and organisation, then Obama could be a huge factor."

Whether a country chooses to bid for 2018, 2022 or both will be crucial. By bidding for both events a country increases its mathematical chances of winning, but could lose votes and support if a bid for 2022 clashed with a deal brokered for support for 2018.

Further muddying the waters are new FIFA rules governing World Cup bidding which mean that the event cannot be awarded to a continent that has hosted either one of the two preceding World Cups.

As a consequence any country bidding to host 2022 could find themselves out of the running automatically if the 2018 event was handed to a country in the same continent.

The credit crunch might be spreading fear amongst football clubs across the world over, but there appears to be good news in Europe; the fans will bail you out.

GettyImagesA Manchester United fan picks a new shirt to replace his out-dated one in the club store.

That's the message from German-based consultancy Sport+Markt who have found that the 116 clubs that comprise Europe's top six leagues (England, Spain, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands) generate €615 million (US$778 million) every year in merchandise alone.

With fans across Europe digging deep every year to buy the latest replica shirt and a variety of other bric-a-brac from club shops, Sport+Markt concludes that while sponsorship revenues might be set to take a tumble there is no evidence to suggest merchandising income will suffer.

''For many, football is a passion, even more so in economically tough times. [And] we do not expect people to cut back heavily on their passion. They will tighten their belts in other areas. The fact that merchandise is a popular gift in most European key markets [means it] will deliver strong income in the future,'' Hartmut Zastrow, the consultancy's executive director told Reuters.

Not surprisingly the Premier League tops the list with €171 million, followed by La Liga on €145 million, the Bundesliga is third on the list with €127 million, Ligue 1 is fourth on €86 million, Serie A stand a disappointing fifth with just €64 million while the Eredivisie's clubs generate the least of the six leagues with just €22 million.